Cincinnati church rector makes a career of outreach to new arrivals from near and far

MT. AUBURN - One snowy January morning in 1992, a woman named Mercedes and her daughter Tania came to the Church of Our Saviour in Mt. Auburn. A long way from their home in Mexico City, they were looking for shelter. They did not know they were at the vanguard of a wave of new arrivals to the Cincinnati area.

Today, the Church of Our Saviour is a haven for people with roots in Latin America as well as migrants from Appalachia, Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender (GLBT) people and African-Americans from urban communities. Under the stewardship of Rector Paula M. Jackson, all are welcome.

“Forgiveness is practiced; people’s gifts are welcomed and everyone is valued.  It is the biggest challenge and the biggest joy,” she said.

A food pantry and community meal are also available to those who show up at Church of Our Saviour’s door. Politics take a back seat.

"When we start getting self-righteous about the technical legalities, with families who are driven here by necessity for the security and survival of their children, we are really picking at a speck of dust in the other’s eye while overlooking the beam in our own," Jackson said.

By word of mouth, Jackson's work has been gradually recognized by both recipients of her ministry as well as the wider community. Passionate about migrant workers, she said, “I see Christ in all of them; the reign of God in heaven.”

The Church of Our Saviour became officially bilingual in 2006. Jackson offers sermons in English and Spanish every Sunday. In Spanish, her church is known as La Iglesia de Nuestro Salvador. About 70 people attend the 10:30 a.m. mass--15 to 20 of whom are immigrants with children. There are a total of 50 immigrant families on the parish roster. 

"They pay taxes. They contribute to the economy"
Another community she serves is Justice for Janitors, targeting people who office buildings. With low pay and few hours, the janitors have looked to Jackson as their unofficial chaplain for the past two years. Urban Appalachians and Guatemalan immigrants are part of this group.
“Most of today’s immigrants rush to accept any employment they can get without complaining about the conditions or terms," Jackson said. "They pay taxes. They contribute to the economy. Their children go to school and learn English while the parents toil away. They are motivated to work harder, to take less for granted and to get along as well as they possibly can with the people around them."

In conjunction with her ministry, Jackson has worked with other organizations serving immigrants:

  • Santa Maria Center in Price Hill
  • Su Casa in Carthage
  • Vineyard Church’s Hispanic program
  • Holy Family Church in East Price Hill
  • Episcopal Diocesan Commission for Latino Ministries. 

A promise to help

Jackson's example of outreach has spread to others. Involved with issues related to Central America for more than 30 years, Church of our Saviour parishioner and VISTA volunteer Nancy Sullivan started a Learning Club for American born children of immigrants as part of the Enright Ridge Urban Ecovillage.

The club provides younger children with enrichment, exposure to English, homework help and field trips.  In addition, Sullivan works for the community development corporation Transformations CDC, which originated with the Church of Our Saviour.

“This year, we also have started offering English as a Second Language (ESL) for adults,” Sullivan said. “We have been fortunate to receive a number of computers and also software for ESL as well as the whole Guatemalan curriculum through the sixth grade. “  

Other programs Sullivan is involved with include food cooperatives, transportation programs such as a taxi coop and health promotoras, which provide basic community health education.

Also involved with the immigrant population in Cincinnati is lawyer Jorge Hernan Martinez, originally from Colombia. Arriving in the area in 2001, he became a legal permanent resident and eventually a U.S. citizen. 

“When I found out that I could apply to be admitted to practice law in Ohio, I made God a promise to help people if I ever was given the chance to do it," Martinez said. "When leaders like Rev. Jackson call me for help, I am always there to give advice or representation. I admire and respect the work of Rev. Jackson, who really understands the needs and suffering of the immigrants who come from the poorest circumstances and places in the world."

Martinez offers legal services pro bono or with reduced fees. He also volunteers at Su Casa twice a month, providing free legal advice and working with the immigrants who are part of the Our Saviour congregation. 

WATCH: The Church of Our Saviour Welcomes You (story continues)

Next page: Honors and awards; how you can connect with the Church of Our Saviour

For her service, Jackson has received a host of awards and honors:

  • The Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission in 2010.  
  • Grand Marshal of the Cincinnati Pride Parade in 2008. 
  • In 2007, Paula received the Nuestra Familia award from the Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. 
  • The Baptist Ministers Conference of Greater Cincinnati and Vicinity, Health Alliance and UC Medical School awarded her the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award in 2006.

“Each of the awards has been a surprise to me, because I wasn’t working for an award and can always think of people who do so much more," Jackson said. "At the same time, I’m honored and grateful. To me, it seems that these awards really belong to the parish which I represent. They do deserve the awards, for being a fearless and compassionate community working for a better world, since long before I came along."

About Rev. Paula Jackson

  • 1974: Graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a B.A. in psychology
  • 1979: Received a master’s degree in divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville
  • 1980: Confirmed as Episcopalian at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville
  • 1985: Earned her doctorate in theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville
  • 1984-85: Served at St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery in New York City
  • 1987: Joined Christ Church in Cincinnati as associate rector
  • 1990: Joined Church of our Saviour in Mt. Auburn as rector

Connect with Church of Our Saviour

  • 65 East Hollister Street, Cincinnati
  • Telephone: 513-241-1870
  • Email:
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